13 Aspects About Aliens You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you want to write sci-fi, or even if you’re just a curious reader, there are a handful of screwy aspects about aliens that you need to watch out for. So here’s where it’s at.

1. Aliens should be alien
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you can call it Rakumph all you want, it’s still an effing duck. Giving creatures fancy names and changing their color doesn’t make them alien. If you’re on an alien planet that has purple skies, three moons and something else than oxygen floating around, you can bet your dog’s chewbone all creatures will be completely different than on Earth. Different chemistry > different environment > different evolution of life. Don’t strap a funny costume on a donkey and call it a fearsome Sharzahkrath. That’s just lazy worldbuilding.

2. Aliens aren’t humans in rubber costumes
Humanoids? Really? You think the whole universe is populated by humans with wrinkly foreheads or an extra tit? Come on! Hollywood resorted to humanoid aliens because it’s cheaper to stuff an actor into a costume than to build a whole alien from scratch. As a fiction writer, you’re not limited by a production budget. Go wild! Go freakishly inhumanly outrageously alien and stun the wits out of your readers.

3. Aliens have their own history
Maybe they never had a war on their planet; maybe they’ve always viewed both (or all three?) sexes equally; maybe they make art out of living creatures and eat their elder in annual festive rituals. Alien creatures will have alien–as in unfamiliar–societies and hence a very different history. They might have evolved from fungi and still reproduce through spores, each female spawning 10,000 young every three and a half cycles, who knows, but this would greatly effect their entire history, don’t you think?

4. If they were smart enough to fly to Earth, they probably know your butthole is not the most interesting part of your body
Aliens that come all this way to abduct people and stick probes up their bums must be retarded. We’d be invaded by morons who got kicked out of their own society for shaming their ancestors. Why in the name of Planet Shmurp would they go there? To learn the secrets of our race?

5. Aliens that are naturally telepathic won’t even grasp the concept of language
Humans have developed language because there was no other direct way to communicate. If an alien race is naturally telepathic, they will never have developed language. That has huge implications! No language means no words to describe things, no symbols to represent experiences, and no written signs either. They would be absolutely unable to grasp the concept of language, let alone learn it. Your human characters will never be able to communicate with such aliens in any simple way, because even if the telepaths could to tap into your thoughts, they won’t understand them. We think in words, we think in describable concepts, we think in relations that make sense in our language-dominated sense of reality. An alien that has never felt the need to name a thing, simply won’t understand us.

6. Aliens that can’t hold a tool won’t invent space ships
Space faring slugs? Highly technological fish-like creatures? How the hell did they come up with buttons if they don’t have hands? How would they have felt the need for tools if they have no possibility to grasp them?Β  How did they weld metal or shape a console if they can’t even hold a screwdriver? Think a bit about this one before you put such nonsense on paper.

7. If they have the weapons, you’ll be the one to adapt
If the aliens are the ones with the bomb, they won’t have any need to adapt to human society or adopt our language. Why should they break a sweat if they can shove the barrel up your nose and make you do it their way?

8. Aliens with a different body chemistry won’t eat human food
All humans have the same body chemistry (we eat carbon-based foods, digest them with our stomach’s chloric acids and assimilate the resulting amino acids into our bloodstream, fueling our cells), and still we have our individual preferences of foods. If your aliens have evolved on a planet where carbon is not the dominant element, if as a result they are not carbon based and don’t consume carbon based foods, they will never be able to eat our foods. And even if they are carbon based, they will probably hate human food. Maybe it takes like dog crackers dipped in month-old gravy to them and has them retching for a week.

9. Aliens and humans cannot procreate
Humans and chimps share over 98% genetic similarity and still cannot make little furry babies with 4 opposable thumbs. For real: 98% genetic freakin similarity! How much genetic material will humans have in common with beings that have evolved on different planets? Oh, I know, I know! Pick me, pick me! The answer is — zilch.

10. Aliens are subject to the same laws of physics as we are
Unless you’re writing about converging dimensions, which would make it fantasy not science-fiction in my opinion—but that’s an entirely different debate (read: stay tuned for more)—your alien races will be subject to the same basic universal laws of physics as we are, like gravity, electricity, the laws of movement and so on. If you throw an alien down the well, he we fall down not float upwards. If you ram a fist into his face, he will budge (unless he weighs ten tons, in which case you’d better get the fuck out of there fast).

11. If they built it for their own needs, you probably can’t use it
Using alien technology straight away in an intuitive manner is more fictional than even fiction allows. If your hero gets aboard an alien vessel, or gets his hands on an alien device, he probably won’t be able to operate it just like that. Different creatures have different needs; and different mentalities create different solutions to those needs. You need a tutorial just to use some of the human stuff from foreign cultures, let alone alien machinery.

12. If they desperately need resources, they won’t waste the little they have on us
Say these aliens have flown all the way to Earth to tap into our oil reserves because their lamps back at home are running out. Whatever resource they might need, it’s present in abundance (or its alternative) on uninhabited planets and asteroids, where they only need to drill a bit and they’re saved. If they waste the little they have to engage in lengthy negotiations or wars to fight us petty bipeds over the shit we have, somebody better replace their leader, he’s a total smeghead.

13. If they don’t look human, they probably have a different definition of beauty
Ah, the mighty alien delegacy comes marching into town to demand complete surrender, and our starry-eyed, silken-haired, ample-bossomed heroine smiles at the alien leader and he’s all lovey-dovey in a blink? Thunk. Book hits wall at mach 4.

 

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This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2012

74 Replies to “13 Aspects About Aliens You Shouldn’t Ignore”

      1. Ran across this while researching for a space game.
        I have to disagree about telepathic aliens not needing a “language” tho. You’re neglecting 2 things that would necessitate recorded thoughts… time & distance. If their telepathy were of limited range, they’d need some way to communicate at a distance (not to mention advertise — alien billboards?) Also they’d have to hand down their knowledge to future generations (unless they’re immortal) The language would be literally unpronounceable and necessarily ideographic instead of alphabetic (having no concept of associating sounds with “words”) and the grammatical structure would be totally surreal to us, but I still think they’d have language.

        Like

  1. Greetings, popped by from the A to Z challenge. I agree it’s important to remember that aliens are not just the painted/suited humanoids we saw Kirk fighting in the first inception of Star Trek.

    Looking forward to your post for Letter B

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    1. Thanks, Majk! I have many interesting posts coming up, thanks for your interest!
      Star Trek is one of the greatest franchises, and it’s created many interesting alien cultures—within the limits it had at every particular time &/ budget. We just mustn’t forget that as writers we don’t have the same limits, and try to think outside of them. πŸ˜‰

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  2. Fun voice Love the whole idea that aliens would have a different beauty concept.

    Also, love your blog title. Picked it out from A to Z.

    Looking forward to seeing more.

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  3. Great post! I haven’t attempted to tackle aliens in my writing…it’s tricky enough to create systems of magic, let alone a whole new race with a whole new history!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jen! Magic isn’t easy either, it’s got to have rules, risks, tolls… the works! Creating alternate realities/species is crazy fun, though!

      Like

  4. Great post! I came THIS close to writing about aliens for my “A” entry, too. I agree with your list from top to bottom. Number twelve in particular needs to be sent to every Hollywood producer working on alien invasion flicks!

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    1. Thanks for dropping in, J.W.!

      It’s mind boggling what Hollywood shoves down our throats sometimes. Beside deplorable aliens, there are so many scientific glitches that you wouldn’t believe! Just think of loud, mushroom like explosions in the void of space. *head-desk*

      I really wonder why they don’t make more intelligent movies, after all, there are hundreds of well written sci-fi novels out there to choose from. Why they constantly spit out remakes beats me.

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  5. Solid choice for A. Not sure why I didn’t think about it. Also, you had some helpful tips on writing aliens. Thanks

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  6. Okay, I’m checking out the posts I missed.

    You make perfect points, Vero! I’ve never included aliens in my writing, so thankfully I haven’t made these left turns.

    And #4? I’m *still* laughing.

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  7. Thanks for this. In my debut novel, I’m going for the “Most Alien Alien” award. That’s a thing, right? My aliens are so alien that they sign their bank checks LAST name FIRST! How can we possibly relate?

    That, and they look like giant boogers.

    Thanks for taking the time to inspire and to instruct your fellow writers. Until I’m caught up, your blog is a daily read for me now.

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    1. Thanks, Brian! I’m very glad you liked it, and that your freakish aliens know how to mess up the human financial system. It’s a conspiracy, right? To crash the economy and then take over our resources and use them to build their own banks? Awesome!

      Thanks a lot for stopping by and giving my blog a try. I’ll be writing about sci-fi more often in the near future, so you might actually get something for your buck. Or your subscription. Whatever. We’ll use your email address wisely, maybe get an alien credit in your name. πŸ˜‰

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      1. Well, when you put it that way, it makes me wonder why aliens would be necessary to undermine the global economy.

        Oh, well. Back to the drawing board…

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  8. I loved reading this. Not only was it amusing, it’s informative. (Sadly, in my young attempts at writing, I have broken, at least, two of these “rules”.)

    Also, I found this with a Google search, “creating an alien writing system”. Now, as this is a bit old, I’m very interested to find more of your articles. You have just gained another fan. πŸ˜‰

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      1. Hi Vero,

        I have one more question: on your list of most hated pet-peeves, are humanoid aliens something you can ignore, or do you hate it with a passion? I’ve been studying up on humanoid aliens over the past day or two, and everyone seems split on the issue. Personally, the more I think about it, the more implausible it seems, so I’m taking them out of my book now, lol.

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      2. I don’t hate them with a passion, not at all. They too have their place, but they must be explained properly, such as in Stargate (TV series), for example, where all the people of different systems are explained by stemming from the same race that populated the galaxy eons ago.

        However, if the alien species in a story is humanoid for no reason, just because it’s convenient for the writer to overcome communication barriers more easily, or some such laziness, then I find it hard to accept. Aliens in a novel must have a reason to exist, and they better be a challenge for the humans to deal with because of their alienness, not despite it. πŸ™‚ Does that make any sense?

        Anyway, I’m glad you’re upping the ante on your aliens, Liza. It’ll be worth it.

        Like

      3. Humanoid means “human-shaped” [i]Prawns[/i] from Distrinct
        9 are humanoid, there sure be will be plenty of humanoid alien species, albeit they won’t be majority. I think roughly 10-30% alien races would be humanoid

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  9. Thanks so much for writing this. I’m coming up with an alien race for a story I am creating and I agree. It’s idiotic when people completely forget the laws or physics, natural selection and adaptations and create something without proper reasoning for it’s traits. You have helped me out quite a bit. My life form has retained some traits from is evolutionary past when it was less intelligent but more physically capable (kind of like us). Because of the intense radiation and heat it is evolved to deflect light and heat, with pale coloration and iridescence. It can also detect fluctuations in the ultraviolet spectrum so that it can tell when the levels become dangerous. They separated into two races when the outer crust was shattered revealing miles of underground catacombs and a vast underground ocean below. Evaporation from these now partially exposed bodies of water created an age of storms. This was especially apparent around the equator of the planet and there is now massive cloud cover due to the high temperatures. The axis tilt is rather extreme so temperatures rise an plummet in these areas while they remain stable at the equator, creating a storm cycle. The species separated because while some remained surface dwellers others took to life within the catacombs. Eventually the two merged and their subspecies went extinct due to competition. As they became more intelligent (mostly to cope with extraterrestrial invasive species threatening their dominance) they began relying less on physical strength and began to use the poorly developed ability inherited by the catacomb dwelling species. They projected high frequency waves (eventually gamma waves) into the minds of foes. This ability strengthened and as focus ad mental ability increased to the point of telepathic communication and advancement of technology to drive out the long-term invaders their vocal range decreased drastically. They have almost no body language, except for extreme emotions. They still posses lingual abilities due to their motive to preserve the knowledge of their history but many have ceased using the language in favor of telepathy. They have become moderately built creatures, but with strong cores to compensate for the slightly higher than earth gravity. They still retain a pale color and some iridescence from their distant past and exposure at high elevations still makes this vital. Their hard covering was also a form of protection from radiation and rivals but it has grown weaker due to their technologies and reduction of brute strength. They have retained their slit like pupils (to alter the amount of light passing through due to the original high-rad. environment and eventual darkened environment). They are adaptable due to their two different lifestyles and are now an established part of the interstellar community, feared and respected. They strive for knowledge above all else as they see it as the only true purpose, as infinite as the expanding universe. They have even become advanced enough to track the expansion of the universe and the location of galaxies, planets, stars and satellites. They rarely interfere with less advanced civilization and have gone no further than orbiting and surveying Earth. They have few enemies (that can compete with them, considering how they eliminated their last adversary). This and their separation from Earth is all true until one of the few challengers sends them plummeting from Low Earth Orbit on a surveillance mission.

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    1. You’ve put a lot of thought in the creation of your alien species, BC. Very well done! Working out the basic steps of evolution from animal to sentient to technological galactic citizen is just the way to go, and it makes sure the traits of your aliens make sense within their evolutionary path. πŸ™‚

      Just one thing that came to mind as I read of them becoming telepaths — if their path to telepathy was via emission of gamma rays that transferred information from sender to receiver, then you must be careful with these aliens “reading” minds which don’t actively transfer these powerful bursts of information. They could receive when no one’s sending, but be aware that that’s another skill altogether. πŸ™‚

      Good luck! I have no doubt your aliens are awesome creatures to read about!

      Like

  10. The last comment reminded me of the words of the human military commander about the alien military commander in an RPG I play: “Were I not a married man and were she not so ugly I would totally bed her.” Note this was space opera and she was a humanoid (bat), but he still couldn’t get past the ‘not actually human’ thing. I never did ask if the feeling was mutual.

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  11. The only thing that threw me off was Aliens and Humans procreating. You don’t know the biology of an alien, how they reproduce, or if that can sync up to humanity in any way. Maybe they’re like the Xenomorph who IS part of it’s host, then the rest of it is alien. Maybe they have weird technology that allows them to do it like the Zerg who assimilate all races and whatever.

    You don’t know, so don’t just go “zilch”. It’s science fiction — theres always a possibility.

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    1. That’s true, “you don’t know the biology of an alien”, so you can’t assume humans and aliens can procreate based on what precedent? That humans and what other species can procreate?

      The probability that it will be possible for humans (part of Earth carbon based ecosystem and the result of Earth’s mammalian evolutionary path) can procreate with creatures part of an alien ecosystem (which is likely to have very little in common with Earth’s), who have had an entirely different evolutionary path based on their ecosystem and genetics, is so close to zero, that I think “zilch” is pretty much accurate.

      Of course, everything is possible in science-fiction, but if it isn’t properly backed up by plausible scientific explanations, then it’s science-fantasy, not science-fiction. A human and an alien having healthy babies at first go is not easy to pull through without considerable explaining.

      As to your examples, the Xenomorph did not mate with humans. It used humans as a host, like a parasite. Are tapeworms mating with people? Even the Newborn in Resurrection was not the result of humans and the Xenomorph mating, but the result of human tampering with DNA. A construct, not the result of a sexual encounter.

      And the Zerg (from what I gather online) also tamper with DNA, incorporating “alien” DNA into their own by assimilating the other species. That’s not technically mating, is it?

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  12. Thanks for this informative post. The only way aliens and humans could procreate is if they were all human to begin with, and some of the humans were able to leave earth and settle elsewhere and somehow adapted to local conditions and wound up looking different than Earthlings. So it would be like a guy from Nigeria procreating with a woman from Iceland.

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  13. This is an excellent guide for creating a true alien race. But what I’m struggling with is the idea of government. An alien society has to have some alien type of government that humans haven’t tried, right? I doubt communism is too big of a problem for martians. So, what type of government would an alien race have?

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    1. That would largely depend on their culture and history, which depends on their biological make-up (what gender roles they have, life expectancy, if they’re “herd animals” or not…), so it’s hard to speculate about government without knowing all those things first.

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  14. Nr 4 made me laugh. Yes, it is funny to hear stories or spinoff on topic nr 4.
    Nr 10: Yes, they are obeying the same physical laws. However, I also believe/think a very advanced race would have been able to miniaturize technology so much, that it is part of their environment and body, and you would not be able to hit them, and they would be able to flow any direction they wanted, with a mere thought.
    We still have to discover what physics has hidden for us. If it were possible to combine a field to shrink matter (increased density), and at the same time, control gravity, anything would be possible. And any aliens race with a few hundred (not to speak of 10^4-6) years headroom would have fully controlled nanotechnologies…
    So…. an (male) alien that you are able to throw down the well, might just happen to float upwards due to his automatic sensor system that took over (like pedestrian safety system in cars) and have activated his miniature power module to induce whatever technology that can control movement πŸ™‚

    Btw. “He will” πŸ™‚

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    1. I had to giggle when I read your comment on no.10. Because in my novel, the alien has nanites coursing through his nervous system, which help him control technology upon touch. And more. πŸ˜€

      Yes, technology can help an alien levitate or walk through walls. But that technology must obey physical laws, while it allows him to break them. So technically, he will still obey those laws, even through manipulating them.
      πŸ™‚
      Long story short: I didn’t mean it that literally. And I loved your comment! πŸ˜€

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      1. Of course an Alien has to obey the physical laws.
        My point is at what level can it, not he :), control the physical world. Like using nano technologies, or even at a lower level.
        Regarding nanites (like the Borgs in voyager), we can call all these implementation whatever we like. I believe that there is so much we still have to discover. We are just doing the first steps into an interesting world of CPU’s, intelligence all around us (later in us), putting atoms together at a lower and lower level (thinner and stronger implementations), etc. And I am fairly convinced that there are billion^billion^billion different lifeforms in the universe at all points on the Kardashev scale.

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      2. Hi Veronica

        Great that you have finished the 3-pack:)

        Since my last comment I’ve been working on a story where aliens violate your list:

        point 5: Well, in the story the aliens are so advanced that where they exist there are no air, not even space, so communication is telepathic, but they can relate to lesser advanced species and have the great idea to let their offspring observe (passive) primitive species make mistakes and over thousands of years learn all aspects (like a single day at the nursery). Of course in my story the offspring accidentally is not dormant/passive and generate some issues in the human world while learning human concept and carbon based lifeforms.
        9 & 10, but how is a trade secrets, they asked me not to reveal how πŸ™‚

        Regarding 5, the aliens smart enough to understand physic laws, make computers, travel and “tweet” each other mentally, will also understand laws of communication, that it can be radio/mind signals, light, audio, gestures (sign language), etc.

        Of course some of the more retarded will look for a way to communicate through the buttholes… πŸ™‚

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  15. I’ve read a number of blogs regarding aliens wherein the writer disparages the idea of alien races being “humanoid”. But, to some extent, they would have to have similarities to humans. To assume an alien culture, with some modicum of technology, the species would have to be capable of manipulating resources, of building and using tools. If they are a space-faring race, they would also have to have the ability to smelt metals, etc. all of which means they need extremities capable of grasping and holding. They would have to be able to think like us because, regardless of where you go in the universe, the laws of physics are the same and the math used must be able to accurately describe those laws of physics. Granted alien species would use different systems of measurement than we do, but the speed of light is the same everywhere in the universe. Also, it seems to me that an alien species would have to have similar purposes as we for expending the necessary resources for interplanetary travel.

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    1. Yup, I agree with most of that, Aaron.

      If I’m to be thoroughly speculative (which I like to be), I’d say that with all my respect for Einstein, the speed of light might be quite different near black holes, and if aliens do exist near black holes, then their technology would be quite different than ours as well.

      But mostly, aliens would have some basic functional similarity with us, like tool grasping limbs, the ability for abstract thought, a form of written language, etc. If you were to look closer, though, they might turn out to be alien in many other respects.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by to comment. πŸ™‚

      Like

      1. I have been working on alien races for my stories for years and think humanoid aliens are extremely unlikely. the story I am currently working on will mostly be aliens with only one humanoid race. The biggest challenge now is the bad guys lol. They are from a different galaxy and I want them to be something terrifying from like H.P. Lovecraft. Any thoughts on evil/Lovecraft race?

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      2. Well, when you say the word “evil” you’re using our morality. Of course they wouldn’t be evil to themselves. A whole race can’t be evil in any case. Even if they’re killing all humanity, they have a good reason according to them, and they’ll have diversity of thought within their species, dissent perhaps, unless they’re some sort of hive mind.

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  16. say i’m thinking about making the humans a hybrid species in my story. like they were designed to be supervisor in every way against other species yes still inferior against the creator ke clones designed to be the ultimate warrior. and highly sensetife to the kinatsu. they were not only created to be soldiers but also to do the dirty job’s like mining. their creators are also the founders of the sudakai order and once had a galactic empire however that was more than 7000 years ago. the timeline is BHB and AHB. before human birth and after human birth ( it’s only the human calendar that goes like this). once the galactic empire fell the creator species were hatted by every race except for the humans. they were great full for creating them not only that but also for giving them rights. now however the creator species is dying out and the humans try to save them. they took control of what remained of the once great empire and strive to make it great once again. by both diplomacy and sometimes war. curently however they are the smallest empire and they have alliances with the numak trade republic and the ignil empire. together their strength is being compared like. britain. the nethelands and sweden against russia and china. they shall put up a good fight but they shall lose if nothing happens. i still need a name for the creator species. any ideas more importand would it work?

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  17. I’m really glad I found this article. Thanks for putting out your ideas to keep us writing writers on the right track. Now I’m going to see if I can fit your thoughts on page. And to maybe read some of your work.
    -H

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  19. Amazing advice-I’m currently working on an alien planet called “Liops”, and as far as I’m concerned, this article really helped, now I know NOT to make any earth animals on this planet, or anything that resembles an earth creature-not that I would take a duck and call it a “Monstrous” Bladderwadder

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  20. I really like this, i think it is inspiring and helpful.
    However, I must disagree with you on 5.
    If these aliens so happen to be intelligent, and realize that we can not communicate telepathically, I think it is possible for them to realize we are making facial, and bodily motions as well as sound to communicate, so long as they have the capability to see and hear, or in any way experience sound waves.
    Of course it would be an extreme example of humans being able to understand that animals communicate without a set of words, and grasp a basic concept of how.

    Well, forgive my blabbering, I wanted to tell you I really appreciated this and that I’m bookmarking it~
    πŸ™‚
    Thanks for writing it β™ͺ

    Like

  21. Yeah, I don’t agree with number 9. Aliens are made up by the writer, if they want to add biological components that match with humans, they very well can do that. It’s very biased advice to tell them not to do it because it bothers you. That’s what creating is, making up things as you see fit. Take Dragonball Z, Saiyans are a humanoid alien race that can turn into monkies and they breed fine with humans. It was never explained how and fans didn’t care because it has nothing to do with the plot of the series. what purpose does it serve to slow down the pace of the novel because a few people want to know how their genitals match up? In Mass Effect the Asari take DNA from any race and procreate, while their children are still Asari, their whole thing is borrowing from other species, but sex is still a thing between Shepard and many of the Aliens in the series. There’s no explanation in that game either, but again, you have to ask yourself is it necessary to know, or do you just want to know? Is knowing going to improve the plot or how you view the characters?

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  22. Eh I don’t have an issue with humanoid aliens. If a bipedal species evolves on one planet who is to say it can’t on another? Not like any of us have been to another galaxy to argue yay or nay.

    The genetics would make procreation an impossibility, however making babies is a cheat to me. Never fails. A TV show starts to lose ratings so someone gets preggo in hopes the cute baby will boost viewers. Leave the procreation out. But… nothing wrong with throwing a little interspecies sex into the mix.

    Which brings me to the argument against the alien getting hot for a human. Provided the basic physicality is not too drastically different (Jabba & Leia, for ex), is it that huge of a stretch? Look at how many white boys go gaga for Asian girls because they think they’re exotic and different. It seems entirely plausible to me for the alien male to eyeball the human female and think, damn she’s small. And missing her head tentacles. And why are her hindquarters so huge? And in the next breath nudge his buddy and say, yeah I’d hit that.

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